Both a play on the protagonist’s name, Gil Bok-soon (Jeon Do-yeon), and Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” — from which director Byun Sung-hyun drew inspiration — “Kill Boksoon” follows the double life of a contract killer and mother who wants to focus more on her relationship with her 15-year-old daughter, Jae-young (Kim Si-a).
Although the movie, which dropped on Netflix last Friday, appears first and foremost to be a thriller filled with plenty of action and tense moments, there are elements of coming-of-age, drama and romance that make “Kill Boksoon” far more than a simple action film.
Bok-soon’s relationship with her daughter is the film’s true essence, and as Jae-young enters a fragile stage of adolescence and begins dealing with a painful romance with another girl at school, both mother and daughter are left feeling unable to connect or communicate honestly with each other.
The weight of this mother-daughter relationship is ultimately central to the ending of the film, as the two learn to work through their problems by being honest with each other and themselves.
Read more for a breakdown of the ending, the meaning behind the mid-credits scene and what Jeon and director Byun have to say about “Kill Boksoon.”
The ending explained
The beginning of the end starts about halfway through the two-hour film after Bok-soon refuses to carry out an assignment given to her by her company, MK Ent.
At a large gathering of professional assassins seven years prior, CEO Cha Min-kyu (Sol Kyung-gu) established three rules for everyone to abide by in an effort to regulate the contract killing business: do not kill minors, only carry out kills sanctioned by your company, and all sanctioned kills must be executed to the best of your ability.
After Bok-soon discovers that her last assignment, a staged suicide, has been sanctioned by the target’s own father, a prime minister candidate under heat for allegations that his son was fraudulently admitted into a performing arts college, she sabotages her own job — effectively breaking one of the three rules governing the killing business.
Min-kyu, who has harbored deep feelings for Bok-soon since the day they met, accepts Bok-soon’s excuse for her failure, but his incestuous sister, Cha Min-hee (Esom), is tired of her brother playing favorites. As a director at MK Ent., she orders another assassin to kill the politician’s son and announces a hit on Bok-soon, with the award for her killer being a position at the Chas’ prestigious company. Bok-soon’s friends all turn against her in the film’s most intricate action sequence, which is shot in a series of long takes.
Bok-soon successfully kills all five friends, including her lover Han Hee-seong (Koo Kyo-hwan), but spares her young protégé Young-ji (Lee Yeon), who witnesses the fight but does not engage.
Incensed at Min-hee for ordering her friends to turn against her and further angered after learning Young-ji was killed merely for being a witness, Bok-soon stabs the director in the neck with a ballpen, leaving her to bleed out. She leaves the bloody pen for Min-kyu as a message that they will fight to the death at a later place and time — a signal explained earlier in the film.
The quiet but melancholic tension between Bok-soon and Min-kyu eventually culminates as the two meet for the last time in his office. Bok-soon tells Min-kyu that she knows his weakness has always been her, causing Min-kyu to pause as he thinks about the day they first met — the day he fell for her. It is this slight hesitation that gives Bok-soon the upper-hand and with a sword, she slashes him with one swift and fatal slit against his chest.
As Min-kyu slowly bleeds out, he tells Bok-soon that Jae-young has been watching the whole scene unfold through an iPad delivered to her by his assistant. The scene cuts to Jae-young watching the security camera footage with tears in her eyes, but audiences are left to wonder whether this is an actual scene or just a projection of Min-kyu’s apparent betrayal.
Bok-soon returns home to find her daughter awakened by her arrival, seemingly normal. Although Netflix translates Jae-young’s comment to her mother as “Long day?” in English, her words hold a deeper, more multiplicitous meaning in Korean. Her words also mean “Good job,” or “You did well,” often used in the context of acknowledging someone’s hard work, suggesting Jae-young did indeed watch her mother kill Min-kyu. Her demeanor indicates that she is not only okay with the fact, she appreciates her mother’s difficult work.
Jae-young, noting that the air is stuffy, then pointedly asks for her mother to leave her bedroom door open. This is a stark difference from the beginning of the film, where Jae-young is shown slamming the same bedroom door on her mother, emphasizing the evolution of their relationship.
The film’s last shot depicts Bok-soon looking back at her daughter’s open bedroom, tears welling in her eyes as she finally feels wholly and truly accepted for who she is.
An optimistic mid-credits scene
In a news broadcast that can be heard playing in the background, the politician who had his son killed is revealed to have died in his car due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Meanwhile, Bok-soon is tending to her plants and calling out for Jae-young, with the juxtaposition of Bok-soon blurred and in the background indicating that she likely staged the politician’s death.
Jae-young goes to school one last time to bid farewell to her former friend and lover, So-ra. As she pulls her in for a handshake, Jae-young whispers in So-ra’s ear that she debated whether to kiss her in front of everyone or to just kill her.
As she walks down the school hallway, Jae-young exchanges eye contact with Cheol-woo, a boy she stabbed with scissors, and smugly points at her neck. More assured with herself than ever — perhaps due to her newfound discovery about the commonalities she shares with her mother — Jae-young breaks out into a full-blown smile.
Jeon Do-yeon and director Byun
“Kill Boksoon” depends heavily upon the parallels between mother and daughter throughout its story.
At the beginning of the film, their fraught relationship and lack of communication is fueled by secrecy on both ends, with Bok-soon hiding her job and Jae-young concealing her sexual orientation.
Bok-soon’s secret is ethically unacceptable, but Jae-young’s is a secret that you don’t really have to keep as a secret except in Korean society and I believe globally as well, in some of the more conservative countries. It is only made a secret because of society and there is ethically nothing wrong with her secret, so I wanted to draw that contrast between the two.
Jae-young’s struggles with opening up to her mother about her sexual orientation mirror Bok-soon’s own difficulties in coming to terms with what the reality of her job entails — killing people and then coming home to face Jae-young proves to take its toll.
While the two struggle with fighting their own internal battles, they ultimately find their answers in each other during an intimate couch conversation near the end of the film. Jae-young ponders why she stabbed her male classmate instead of just pretending to date him so that she could be with So-ra, but concludes that she wanted to stay “true to herself.” Bok-soon is emboldened by her daughter’s statement and realizes what being true to herself means: being a killer.
Speaking of this scene in particular, Jeon said:
Moms are kind of scared to show their world to their daughters but in that scene, I think that was the moment when Bok-soon learned from her daughter how to live her life … [Bok-soon] was enlightened as to how she should stay true to herself, and how she should lead her life.
The mid-credits scene hints that both mother and daughter are staying true to who they are, and are happier with themselves and with their relationship because of it. The two embrace each other’s differences; Bok-soon does not give up killing, but will now channel her killing toward more vigilante purposes — think “Dexter” — and Jae-young no longer needs to hide who she loves — and as she is shown to resemble her mother, she is capable of violence as well!
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